The first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, were ratified by Congress on Dec. 15, 1791.
The amendments limit the power of the federal government and provide protection for such freedoms as free speech, religion and the right to bear arms.
In observance of Independence Day, The Herald-Mail asked local residents to share their feelings on the meaning and importance of the amendments.
Here are their responses, which were compiled by Herald-Mail reporter Maegan Clearwood.
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Rabbi Fred Raskind
Congregation B’nai Abraham, Hagerstown
Member of Interfaith Coalition
“In my denomination, even in freedom of speech, we have a strong tradition of freedom of the pulpit. Freedom is a two-way street. None are absolute.
“One of the things I like to emphasize with all these rights is there’s responsibility with it. It’s not a license for anything goes. I’m more of a moderate.
“The people’s civil rights must be protected. It’s the foundation of the whole basis of American politics. They have the rights as individuals to practice religion. A lot of countries don’t have that; the government controls elections, for example. We have power of the ballot. It’s important to remember that.
“In Europe in the past, and to some degree the present, they have a lot of state religion. In England, for example, they have the Anglican church. That’s the official church of the country. Chaplains in Germany, I know, are paid by the government.
“That flies in the face of our beliefs of church and state. Autonomy is important. I want people to come to my congregation and my sermons because they choose to, not because it’s politically expedient or the government makes them.”
The Rev. Rob Apgar-Taylor
Pastor, Veritas United Church of Christ, Hagerstown
“As an ordained minister, having the freedom of religion is of great importance. Freedom of speech and religion are paramount in a pastor’s role as a spiritual leader in his or her faith community, and as a prophetic leader in the community.
“Are there things we are called to address in our society as we see injustice and oppression? Certainly. There are places where people of faith have been silenced and the church has not been able to speak with the freedom it needed to impact culture.
“That being said, it is important for me to remember as a spiritual leader that while I do have the freedom to express my religious voice and lead my faith community as I feel God’s leading, I also live in a society where that same amendment ensures that my religious voice is not the only one that matters. We need to also honor and respect the freedom for others to express their own spiritual convictions as they see fit.
“As leaders of the faith community, it is important that respect and compassion for all people begin with us.”
Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
Secretary, North American Rod and Gun Club
Secretary, Washington County Federation of Sportsmen’s Club, Hagerstown
“Our club supports the second amendment. Some people think the amendment applies to people in groups because of the militia part, but we support the individual.
“Obviously, without the freedom to own firearms, as guaranteed by the Second Amendment, we would not have the North American Rod and Gun Club.
“The expansion of urban and suburban areas has crowded out many shooting areas and made it increasingly difficult to find a place to shoot. Gun clubs are safe places to exercise our right to own a gun. Also, every shooting club in the county supports wildlife conservation, and each has some sort of program to foster the love of hunting, fishing and safe, responsible shooting in the minds of children.
“Maryland has very strict gun-control laws. There are many checks on the system.
“I don’t believe the individual should be able to use a gun unless they’re trained to. Guns in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing hurts people.
“I firmly believe that we need to stress education, not legislation, when addressing the use and ownership of firearms.”
Third Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
No Soldier shall, in time of peace, be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.
Chief Master Sgt. Roland Shambaugh
Chief loadmaster, 167th Airlift Wing, W.Va. Air National Guard
“Our forefathers did an outstanding job when they drafted the Bill of Rights. The third amendment protects our citizens from being forced to quarter soldiers in their homes. Although this is very unlikely today, the Third Amendment illustrates the level of respect our country has toward the citizens and their property.
“By placing the president and Congress, elected by the people of our great nation, in charge of our armed forces, our military is held to the highest standards of moral responsibilities.
“The rights of our citizens are strictly protected, contrasting Colonial times when this amendment was drafted. Today’s military is an all-volunteer force, which ensures only folks who want to serve wear the uniform.”
Fourth Amendmentto the U.S. Constitution
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Chief of police, Hagerstown Police Department
“Obviously, the implication is that it keeps the government from overreaching. It’s an important safeguard.
“In court, it’s become a bit of a technical exercise. Every day in court, evidence is suppressed.
“It makes a police officer’s job difficult because if a lawyer with years of studying law doesn’t know how to interpret it, how is an officer with only a few years of experience supposed to know? Again, it’s a small price to pay. In the framework of legal decisions, sometimes common sense gets lost in the shuffle. Sometimes guilty go free, but in the big scheme of things, that’s a small price to pay.
“It’s part of the job: Some evidence will be suppressed for technicalities going to the Fourth Amendment. There’s always evidence not admissible in court.
“We have cases forwarded constantly about what you can do and what you can’t do, what’s admissible, what you have to throw out. It’s a never-ending learning process.
“No police officer in the U.S. who has made a number of arrests hasn’t come up against Fourth Amendment rights. The rules change on almost a daily basis. There’s no rock-steady policy or procedure to use.
“If you don’t stay current, you lose your edge. It’s not a perfect system, and it’s very frustrating to us police officers.
“When we get frustrated, we need to take a step back and think about the alternative. Justice is sometimes not served because of technical details, but again, it’s a small price to pay.”
Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
David C. Harbin
Criminal defense attorney
“Clauses of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution are involved with almost every single case I handle. The fifth amendment protects a person’s right to remain silent during police questioning. The fact that someone refused to speak to the police cannot be used as evidence of guilt in court.
“If a suspect is questioned while in custody and is not told about the right to remain silent, any incriminating statements may be inadmissible at trial.
“Although ‘Pleading the Fifth’ is prevalent in the news and television shows, it still seems to be an underutilized right. More often than not, investigators manage to elicit incriminating statements from suspects, even after the accused are read their Miranda Warnings.
“The Fifth Amendment also allows a defendant or witness to remain silent at trial. During a trial, the judge will instruct the jury that a defendant has the right to remain silent, and that silence cannot be used as evidence of guilt.
“One of the most difficult decisions an attorney has to make during trial is whether to advise his client to remain silent or testify. There are occasions when it may not be the best idea to testify for strategy reasons. Ultimately, it is the defendant’s decision to exercise this right or testify and tell the other side of the story.”
Sixth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed; which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
John R. Salvatore
Criminal defense attorney
“Obviously the right to counsel is a necessity. The whole legal system is complex, and it gets more and more complicated all the time. To the layperson, he’s lost without guidance, and there are a lot of misunderstandings from TV shows now. They show everything in black and white, but there’s a lot of gray.
“I deal in criminal law. Often a lawyer may not (get a defendant a verdict of) not guilty, but he can achieve your goal, whether that’s no criminal record, not going to jail or not losing your license. They do plea negotiations. ...
“The amendment is an important part of what the Founding Fathers did because many years ago, you didn’t know in advance what you were accused of. The amendment required that you were told what you have to defend yourself against. In America, you’re not tried in the dark or in a vacuum.
“You can find out various things about the evidence against you, something we call ‘discovery.’
“Usually, you know what the other side’s going to say and do, and the other side knows what you’re going to say and do. It’s not trial by ambush.
“The amendment is there to ensure the defendant is treated fairly, gets a fair trial and doesn’t get railroaded.
“The Bill of Rights skews things to favor the rights of the accused, and you hear a lot of criticism about that, but it’s designed to help the citizen, and any citizen who is accused.
“The attitudes change when the shoe’s on the other foot and you, the accused, want to be treated fairly.
“We have the saying, ‘It’s better that 100 guilty people go free than one innocent person be imprisoned,’ and I’d like to think that’s what we’re focused upon.
“The system is not designed to treat a robber or murderer in beneficial means; it’s designed to treat all of us.”
Seventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
In Suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise re-examined in any Court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.
W. Kennedy Boone III
Washington County circuit judge
“It has to do with basic rights. We’re in the common law system. It’s somewhat like the system of Great Britain because we were a British colony. After independence, the Founding Fathers wanted to make sure citizens’ rights were protected because there were abuses before.
“When you look at amendment number seven, you need to look at six as well. Six is pretty serious stuff, then they follow it up with number seven, concerning civil cases. The crux of amendments six and seven is really protection of due process, not only in criminal cases, but civil cases as well.
“In my opinion, if we look back at Colonial times, there was a real class system. You didn’t really have due process. The thing the Founding Fathers wanted was to adopt the English common law, and keep the good things, but cover the basics of issues that had become important to people during Colonial times.
“One reason they left England was because they didn’t get these rights there. People were trying to get away and establish a new life. If you were one of the big guys with plenty of money, England was fine.
“When we finally declared independence, the declaration had no constitution, but it says we were imbued with unalienable rights. You can see all they were objecting to there. They eventually incorporated these in the amendments.”
Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
Lewis C. Metzner
Criminal defense attorney
“I do criminal defense work, and one of the biggest issues when it comes to the eighth amendment is better medical and mental health care.
“The Supreme Court just made a landmark ruling against the state of California for failure to provide adequate health and medical care. That’s the biggest issue in prisons today: health care for inmates. There’s a substantial percentage who have medical and mental health issues.
“As for bail, we don’t usually see issues of excessive bail.
“The big threshold issue is the death penalty, but that’s more of a national issue.
“Fortunately for us in Washington County, we don’t see issues of cruel and unusual punishment at the local prison level. There are state issues in terms of medical treatment. You see that in the prisons nationwide because of lack of funding.
“Our Founding Fathers found they were subject to a lot of cruel and unusual punishment, and they wanted to ensure that it didn’t happen in America. It’s based on what our Founding Fathers had to live with, and we need to remember that.
“You don’t judge a country on how it treats its rich people, it’s how they treat its ‘bad people.’
“This is civilized society.”
Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
Ruth Anne Callaham
Washington County commissioner
“To summarize several academic recitations on the Ninth Amendment, it is believed to be placed in the Constitution as a catchall phrase to protect rights not specifically listed in the Constitution as belonging to the federal government, state government or the people.
“The intent was to protect rights of the people as belonging to the people, although not specifically assigned as such in the basic document.
“As a county commissioner, I most often see people expressing their rights of free speech and assembly. In fact, for government to work well, it is critical that folks know that they can freely speak to commissioners and express their corporate opinion by assembly without redress. But those freedoms are expressly assigned in the Constitution via the First Amendment. Other rights belonging to the people are not so explicit. Rights associated with land use is a good local example: What right does county government have to mandate use of the land owned by private citizens?
“The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. The 14th Amendment, which identifies property rights prohibiting unlawful search and seizure, was passed in 1868. That was quite a few years to put into law that the government cannot violate your privacy or take your property without due process. During that period, many believed that unlawful search and seizure was covered under the Ninth Amendment. Today, local governments all over the nation dictate how land can be used via zoning.
“There are many processes and policies in place to protect a citizen’s property rights which are not listed in the constitution but are within the spirit and intent of the ninth and 14th amendments.”
10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
John P. Donoghue
Maryland state delegate
“It’s the basis of my job. It allows me at the state level to enact laws that pertain to every citizen in the state of Maryland, things like public education, public safety, health care. That entire amendment enables every state legislator the ability to do these things.
“We can’t wait around for Washington to do everything for us. Many issues at the state level have to be addressed sooner rather than later.
“In Maryland, we’re very blessed to have a system where we’re all up for re-election at the same time, every four years. We don’t have to worry about upheaval like they do in Washington. We can address things more quickly.
“I think it’s pretty clear what the states’ rights are. Anyone who reads the Federalist Papers can fully understand that there’s always been tension, but it really does work as a system.
“There are rare occasions where we disagree with the federal government, for example, when they pass mandates down to us where we don’t have the funding or means to implement them in the way they want us to. Ultimately, there’s a decision made somewhere, though.”